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Other Frequently Asked Questions about Nupedia

Please refer to the About Nupedia page for answers to the most basic and frequently asked questions about Nupedia.


Q. Can you explain more fully what you mean by this "open content" stuff? What does "open content" mean? Does it mean the encyclopedia is free?

Q. How did you decide how to word the license?

Q. I'm concerned that you're going to change the license and Nupedia authors will be stripped of their rights. How can we trust you?

Q. Who, then, owns the above-mentioned copyrights and licenses articles on an open content basis?

Q. Can you seriously expect to get many people interested on a purely volunteer basis?

Q. How is Nupedia going to make money to support the project, anyway?

Q. Wait a second -- doesn't that mean that you are trying to profit from this project?

Q. Well, what's stopping me from taking every bit of Nupedia content and putting it up on a website that doesn't have any banner ads?

Q. You say you want to make this an "unbiased" encyclopedia. Aren't you being naive?

Q. But what does it mean to be "unbiased," anyway?

Q. The general concept behind Nupedia is intriguing, but there remains one question that should keep anyone from getting too excited about it: why is there a need for another encyclopedia? Aren't there already quite enough excellent encyclopedias?

Q. Is this just an American encyclopedia?

Most recently updated, July 13, 2000.

Q. Can you explain more fully what you mean by this "open content" stuff?  What does "open content" mean?  Does it mean the encyclopedia is free?

A. First of all, Nupedia.com will always be free for readers.  And the content will be open to use, free of charge, by other websites, books, and other media, so long as they abide by certain simple rules.  If you want a really clear understanding of what "open content" means, we encourage you to read our actual open content license.  The license allows anyone to take our content and do whatever they please with it; they simply have to credit us as the source and not attempt to alter it and make the resulting material proprietary themselves.  In other words, we want to be known as the source of Nupedia material, and we don't want anyone to start charging people for versions of material that we ourselves never charged people for in the first place.

In practice what this means is that the editor (or, one of the editors) of our anthropology material might simply republish the entire contents of that section as a cheap $25 hardcover print encyclopedia of anthropology.  Or webmistress Jill can swipe what our writers have produced on the topics of rugby, lemming cliff-diving, and Caligula, cleverly alter the contents of the articles, and build a humorous website around that.  Or Yahoo! or Infoseek might want to add an encyclopedia feature, using Nupedia articles without paying us for them.  We wouldn't mind; in fact, we would be delighted if they did.  They would simply have to link to Nupedia.com on each page on which they used Nupedia material.

Q. How did you decide how to word the license? 

Our license is an adaptation of the license of the very successful Open Directory Project, with modifications based on the Open Content License from OpenContent.org.

The purpose of the license is two-fold.

First, we seek to protect our volunteers by making sure that our content remains free and open forever.  No one can take our work, make modifications to it, and make the result proprietary.  Future work based on our work must be returned to the community.

Second, we seek to ensure that the Nupedia project grows through proper attribution of credit.  Anyone can take our articles and put them on their own website -- indeed, we hope that some extremely large commercial websites choose to do so -- but when they do, they must provide a hypertext link back to Nupedia.  This ensures first, that Nupedia becomes justifiably well known for the openness and quality of our volunteer-based encyclopedia, and second that end users will always have quick access to the most current version of the article directly from the Nupedia website.

Finally, we want to note that we do not regard the license as absolutely final.  We are very open to feedback and assistance, particularly from experienced and well-known members of the open source software community.  If there are any problems with our license as currently written, we would love to discuss it and attempt to improve.

Q. I'm concerned that you're going to change the license and Nupedia authors will be stripped of their rights.  How can we trust you?

A. While this is a very understandable question, it belies a misunderstanding of the nature of open source and open content projects.  Let us explain.  Essentially, in order for some information to be open source or open content, some entity must hold the copyright to that information; the information is then licensed out by the copyright holder for use by whomever wishes to abide by the license.  If you find an article on Nupedia.com, our license gives you (and anyone) the legal right to use it in the ways we've described.  If we were to try to change the license and, for example, try to extract money for articles that were released under our open content license, we would have no legal basis on which to try to charge people.  The license is your legal protection against our doing such a thing.  In other words, the license obligates us legally to permit you to use the articles in the ways described by the license!

If we were to try to change the license so as to make new articles not open content, in any case, we would lose virtually all of our very valuable volunteers -- so it would be very silly for us to change it in any way but to the benefit of the public and our contributors.  In any event, our serious, long-term, expressed intention is release Nupedia articles on an open content basis, under a license that indeed the open source community (which is very sensitive about these issues) can readily acknowledge as a bona fide open content license.  We very much wish to remove all concern that we have any less than a full-fledged, exemplary open content project.

Q. Who, then, owns the above-mentioned copyrights and licenses articles on an open content basis?

A. At present, Bomis, Inc., a San Diego-based Internet company.  Bomis principals have been seriously discussing making the copyright holder a legally independent, nonprofit Nupedia Foundation.

Q. Can you seriously expect to get many people interested on a purely volunteer basis?

A. As of mid-July, 2000, we have over 2,150 members, over 60 peer reviewers and editors, and dozens of copyeditors.  Among our members are some very distinguished scholars and experts.

What's important to understand is that this is an open content endeavor.  The history of "open source" projects is very important to observe in this connection.  The Linux operating system is a good example.  Linus Torvalds, the "creator" of Linux, posted a message on the Internet saying that he was making the source code for a Unix-like kernel available to programmers to comment on, further develop, etc.  Linux came to be developed and supported by thousands of programmers, and their numbers are still growing.

Bear in mind that programmers are busy, extremely well-paid professionals; nonetheless, thousands of them have spent countless hours doing difficult programming and documentation without being paid for it.  What on earth induced them to work without compensation?  The fact that Linus Torvalds had made the source code for Linux available on an "open source" basis; anyone could take it, use it, alter it, etc., so long as they did not attempt to make it proprietary (i.e., so long as they didn't try to stop other people from taking it, using it, altering it, etc.).

So the Linux programmers rightly felt themselves to be important participants in a public effort.  The results would be available free of charge, the participants were able to enter and exit the development project at will, and what they were creating was of superlative usefulness; so they had no trouble about contributing their effort without compensation.

We think that there are, potentially, more scholars and experts, the world over, qualified and interested in contributing to Nupedia than there are programmers who are interested in developing Linux.  But there are many thousands of Linux developers.  So it seems reasonable to suppose there will be, in the fullness of time, many thousands of Nupedia contributors.

For another example, have a look at www.dmoz.org, the Open Directory Project, which has developed an enormous web directory along the lines of Yahoo!.  They have enlisted the help of tens of thousands of volunteer links-gatherers, whose annotated links are picked up, free of charge, by some major web portals.

Q. How is Nupedia going to make money to support the project, anyway?

A. Primarily by selling banner ads, eventually.  Not right away; we want to drive traffic up to the point where it makes sense to sell ads.

Q. Wait a second -- doesn't that mean that you are trying to profit from this project?

A. Indeed, we want to make it very clear that the owner of Nupedia.com, Bomis, Inc., does intend to make money from this project.  If you wish to be involved, we hope you will realize this and, if necessary, come to terms with it.  We feel it's important to point out, however, that the fact that we want to make money from the project does not preclude you, or anyone else, from making money from it as well!  That is one of the beauties of open source and open content projects in general.

Q. Well, what's stopping me from taking every bit of Nupedia content and putting it up on a website that doesn't have any banner ads?

A. Nothing whatsoever.  We'd be delighted if you would.  It ultimately means more traffic, prestige, etc., for us, and most importantly (in the editor-in-chief's opinion, anyway) a better encyclopedia.  We might do that ourselves on nupedia.org.

Q. You say you want to make this an "unbiased" encyclopedia.  Aren't you being naive?

A. We don't think so.  We think that, given the way we're planning to edit the encyclopedia, a relative lack of bias is actually a natural outcome.  You see, we want to have our writers post articles to subject area review groups -- which will be set up as e-mail discussion groups -- which then evaluate the articles for accuracy, completeness, style, and of course bias.  Naturally, if the proponent of a controversial view slants an article in such a way as to make his view look better than the others, representatives of the other views will be on hand to ask him to tone it down, to include arguments in favor of other views, etc.  We will also have a strong system in place in which the public may comment on entries, including on any perceived bias.  In addition to the balancing effects of this overall process, it will be Nupedia policy, which we will expect area editors and peer reviewers to help enforce, not to favor any one of several controversial views in articles.

Of course, we may not be able to satisfy everyone as regards the representation of their lovely pet views and of nasty evil opposing views.  But at least everyone can be equally dissatisfied!

Q. But what does it mean to be "unbiased," anyway?

A. The concept relevant to an encyclopedia seems perfectly non-mysterious.  When on a given topic there are several different views worth mentioning (and, eventually anyway, we will aim for inclusiveness in this regard), one presents each as clearly and sympathetically as possible.  The article author states that adherents of view A believe such-and-such, while those taking view B believe so-and-so; the author does not state such-and-such or so-and-so except by way of referring to others' views.  Eventually, arguments and objections regarding each view are supplied, stated clearly, politely, and with a minimum of fallacy (as much as the arguments themselves allow).

There are other opportunities for bias to rear its ugly head.  For instance, an author might conveniently exclude a particularly distasteful minority view on a subject, or word the description of the view in a particularly unflattering light, which makes certain damning objections patently obvious.  In all such cases the principle to follow is not to include or exclude or describe views in such a way as to imply that the author accepts or rejects the view in question.

Of course, it is usually important to state which views are now (or were at some time) in favor or no longer in favor.  But even this information can be imparted in such a fashion as not to imply that the majority view is correct, or even that it has any more presumption in its favor than is implied by the plain fact of its popularity.

We're willing to admit that the arrangement of topics might seem to have some implicit bias; but we are determined to arrange topics in order of their popularity where the topics themselves are some controversial views.  We simply hope then that readers will not believe that Nupedia editors are biased in favor of the most popular views!

Q. The general concept behind Nupedia is intriguing, but there remains one question that should keep anyone from getting too excited about it: why is there a need for another encyclopedia?  Aren't there already quite enough excellent encyclopedias?

A. There are a number of ways in which Nupedia has the potential of becoming unique.

Nupedia may well end up with a larger and more diverse base of contributors than any encyclopedia in history.  Moreover, it is hypertext, and online.  Hence it is in principle infinitely expandable.  So, our ambition for Nupedia is for it to become the largest -- broadest, deepest, and most up-to-date -- encyclopedia in history.  Where Britannica might have 1000 words on a given relatively obscure subject in the history of science, Nupedia might, in the fullness of time, have a treatise.

In addition to this, the mere fact of its being a public endeavor, and the results of publicly-accessible discussions among experts online, has, as we said, the potential for distinguishing Nupedia for its lack of bias.

Finally, our review process is thorough and unique, and has the very real potential to create articles that are superior in a variety of respects to articles in existing encyclopedias.

Q. Is this just an American encyclopedia?

A. Definitely not.  Not only do we currently permit articles in both American and British English, we have plans to translate Nupedia articles into many major world languages.  We actively encourage participation from around the globe -- something that is made possible on this scale by the Internet.  Part of the reason (but only part) that we insist on our nonbias policy is that this is the only feasible way to have a truly international project -- which is fully our intention.

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